In Conversation: Anni Oates, Director Of Art World Forum

The director talks to us about the challenges Singapore faces moving ahead to become an internationally established art hub

art world forum

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Based in Singapore, Art World Forum is a newly formed global networking platform for art and business professionals. Intent on bringing together insiders from both fields to complement the burgeoning art and finance industry worldwide, Art World Forum recently concluded their inaugural conference titled ‘Navigating The Global Art Markets’. The event, held at St. Regis Hotel, brought together a diverse group of participants and speakers such as art collector Guillaume Levy-Lambert, art market consultant Thomas Galbraith of The Petraeus Group, Jennifer Scally, Asia Managing Director of art insurers AXA Art, and Mohit Mehrotra, Partner at Deloitte Consulting.

Through a mix of panels and speaker interviews, the conference addressed issues pertinent to both the global and local art market. These ranged from art investing trends, building cultural capital, the relationship between copyright laws and the art market, and corporate art sponsorship. While some discussions were less effective than others, overall, the conference spotlighted issues critical to the growth of the local art and finance ecosystem. Its successful inauguration marks a positive step forward for Singapore as it strives to become a regional art hub.

Harper’s Bazaar Singapore spoke to Art World Forum Director Anni Oates to find out more about Art World Forum, the conference, and the challenges Singapore faces moving ahead to become an internationally established art hub.

  • Could you introduce yourself and your background?

I am Anni Oates and I am the co-founder and director of Art World Forum. My love for the arts started out from a very early age. I always thought that my life’s calling was to be an artist. I studied fine arts and was then introduced to design through book arts at university. However, I soon realised that the artist’s pathway was not quite the route for me. Instead I found that I could offer and achieve more through the art market and its business.

art world forum

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  • How did the idea for Art World Forum come about; what were the main objectives in its founding?

Art World Forum came about over drinks one day with my Singaporean partner and co-founder, Veronica Neo, and my brother. We were eagerly discussing what is currently happening in the art market, or rather what may be lacking. Veronica and I come from rather different backgrounds—hers being much more corporate based—we felt that there weren’t enough international platforms which encourage art business and corporate professionals to come together and address pressing issues within the marketplace. Other than on-the-spot content we aimed to also provide an international networking opportunity.

  • How was the conference topic chosen and why?

Our theme ‘Navigating The Global Art Markets’ was chosen to encapsulate the challenges being faced by the art world in the same way that the general economy in Singapore and the world has its challenges.  Our target market for the conference was dealers to academics, artists to institutions, and collectors to corporates, and it is clear that the relationship between these players and the type of business being engaged is changing.  The art business is in a period of transition and we tried to cover that point through the various presentations, interviews and panel discussions we had at the conference.

The transitioning period we seem to be facing is one that is evident across all industries and a result of the economic slowdown. As seen through our programming, our speakers, and other sources too, professionals are starting to wear multiple hats within their fields to cover greater ground and make larger impacts. It is no simple role any more to be an art business executive—whether gallerist, collector or investor—one must navigate several routes and have multiple talents.

art world forum

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  • What was the process of planning the inaugural conference like and what were some of the challenges faced along the way?

From our prior experience and interest in the art scene Veronica and I knew the main issues impacting the current art business market.  We also knew several potential speakers and panelists from our education, work experience and social network. Then came several months of discussing, fine tuning, matching topics with speakers and bringing it all together.

In terms of reach we started with personal databases of a couple of hundred contacts which soon became a few thousand through meetings, extensive research and word of mouth. Veronica and I both travelled around Southeast Asia, greater Asia and Europe and found that people were indeed waiting for an opportunity like Art World Forum to be able to discuss the issues involved in art business at an event like the one we were planning.

What was a challenge was that a couple of committed partners and speakers eventually withdrew their participation as they had to commit themselves to other business engagements at a short notice. Such an occurrence is not unexpected in the event business but it keeps you on your toes, having to think fast and make fresh approaches right to the last minute. As the organiser of such an event and a mere two-man team, you can’t afford to dwell on such hiccups, you just carry on and make it work.

  • After hearing from the conference speakers, in what ways do you think Singapore can better position itself to become a competitive hub for the art and finance industry?

The information shared by our speakers is crucial not just to the Singaporean art scene but to the art business world in general. Singapore is an established financial hub with a bourgeoning art scene. The arts need to be left to develop organically, with the motivational help and support of its creators and followers. It is also beneficial for Singapore to hear ideas from abroad, how art and art business is developing in the rest of the world and indeed to engage in discussion and cooperation in order to exchange ideas and opportunities, and to learn and share with art professionals across the globe.

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  • Who do you particularly admire in the global art market or art industry, and why?

Frankly, this is a difficult question. I don’t like to rank the people I most admire. However, I do appreciate several people who have shown determination to push boundaries and think outside the box. In the often-challenging world we live in it is those who innovate and confront the difficulties they face that pave the way for aspiring players to follow.

Some of my favourite contemporary artists are Tracey Emin, Olafur Elliasson and Ruben Pang because in their own ways they tackle sexuality, environmental concerns and the prospering local art scene.

In areas besides art practice I admire Deutsche Bank for its efforts to best support aspiring contemporary artists, Serge Tiroche and the Tiroche DeLeon Collection for offering exposure and support to artists through its artist residency program, and incentives such as the Marina Bay Sands Art Path for bringing contemporary art closer to its people.

This is why Art World Forum came about—to bring together the varying expertise and knowledge of thought leaders through art.

  • How does Art World Forum see itself developing in the near and long term future?

Art World Forum was established as an emerging global platform which aims to build valuable networks between art professionals and business leaders.  The first event was in Singapore, and that paves the way for more to come.  We will certainly be back in Singapore in 2017 and we are currently in discussion with potential partners in Hong Kong and in Europe.

Additionally Art World Forum is a web publisher providing up-to-date art market insight via original editorial articles and intellectual contributions by reputable art professionals.  This we will grow and develop. We will continue to provide unique informational, marketing and networking opportunities to art investors, collectors, dealers, insurers, academics, practitioners and overall art enthusiasts. In time, our aim is to be established in each of the world’s key art markets.

By Rachel Ng

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